COIMBATORE: Two months ago a young couple had rushed their one-year-nine-month old baby to PSG Hospitals. The baby was declared brought dead by the hospital authorities. An examination revealed a small plastic nut in her wind-pipe.
“The parents just kept saying that the baby was playing when he suddenly fainted. When they couldn’t revive him they brought him to the hospital,” says Dr A Jayavardhana, paediatrician at PSG Hospitals, which sees at least 20 child deaths due to choking annually, he says.
Doctors say, there has been a steady increase in the number of children, especially those under five-years-of age, being brought in with complaints of choking. They say children often put small particles inside their mouth which sometimes get caught in their windpipe. “It starts blocking their airway creating breathlessness,” says paediatrician Dr D Ashwath of Kovai Medical Centre and Hospital (KMCH). “It is natural for children between one and three years to put everything they see inside their mouth,” he says. “It’s dangerous because even small alkali batteries or nickel batteries that look just like gems can create chemical reactions inside the food pipe and choking when it enters or settles at the opening of the windpipe,” he adds.
Paediatricians get at least three cases of choking every month, and at least three of 10 choking cases result in children being brought dead. “Larger toxic objects like plastic or clay doh or food items that are not easily dissolvable like groundnuts cause instant death,” says Dr Jayavardhana. If the food item is smaller or dissolvable, a block like this could cause other problems.
Recently, a two-year old baby girl from Gobichettipalayam was taken to the doctor by her parents who thought she had asthma. The child had reportedly begun coughing one day and it had not ceased even after two weeks of medication. When being questioned by the doctors the parents remembered that the child was eating masala peanuts. “A scan revealed a groundnut lodged in her lungs. We then had to remove it by doing a bronchoscopy, which entails administering anaesthesia for the child,” says Dr Jayavardhana. Doctors say when the particles move into their lungs it causes a host of other problems like pneumonia, severe coughing and other lung infections if detected late.
The rise in cases coming in with choking is attributed to lack of awareness and diligent monitoring by parents or nannies. They say the first step in avoiding such accidents is to ensure the babies play with the right toys and are given the right snacks to munch on. Most of the well-known toy makers like Mattel and Funskool ensure the toys meant for children under three to five years of age do not consist of small parts. “Parents should allow their children to play only with age appropriate toys,” says Dr M Selvaraj, paediatrician at Ganga Hospitals. “There is such a range of mechanically made toys with small nuts and bolts,” says Ashwath.
“Things should be mashed before given to eat” says Dr Selvaraj. “Nuts become dicey because molars are now developed for children under five years. Even vegetables like green peas, beetroot cut into cuboids or triangles often get stuck,” says Dr Ashwath.
Doctors also recommend watching the children while playing and avoiding distractions while eating. “Often the older siblings put an object into the younger child’s mouth without knowing the consequences. Things like talking or playing with a child while feeding them should also be avoided because the swallowing co-ordination gets disturbed,” says Dr Karthick Annamalai, a city based paediatrician.